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Full text of "A search in secret Egypt"

2 72              A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
indeed almost affectionate—demonstrated its real worth in picking its sure-footed way up the steep precipice. Each hoof of the once-abused animal was planted efficiently amongst the slippery debris of loose stones and crumbling rock that formed our track; I made no attempt to guide the donkey; it was unnecessary because its unerring instinct knew better than I where to plant those hooves. It was really quite powerful and was much taller than those seen in England, being about the size of a small mule. Up and up we struggled to ascend the high peak whose towering summit overtops the entire ridge, while the terrific sun poured its relentless rays upon us both. There were long stretches of the track and a few dangerous bends where I had to dismount and let the donkey precede me for some distance, in order not to overtax its strength. I pressed my feet into the stirrups as the donkey approached the end of its climb up the slippery gorge, to keep from falling off. When the top was gained, I slid off the panting creature's back and let it rest; I looked at the magnificent panorama which stretched itself out two thousand feet below. The peak completely dominated the surrounding hills and level plain. There was a striking contrast between the yellow desert and the lush green of the irrigated lands. The brooding peace of this spectacle brought me a definite sense of spiritual comfort. What a spot in which to enter into communion with Nature! The entire scene rested in silence and I could not resist the feeling of having shaken off all ties with the world beyond.
I turned and moved a few steps—and then I noticed the stranger.
He sat—or rather squatted on crossed legs—upon a low boulder, whose top he had carefully covered with a cloth. His head was turbaned; long, raven-black hair, tinged with grey, crept out of its white folds; it remained unmoved; and he too seemed to be gazing at the grand spectacle which Nature had unfolded at our feet. He was a small man with small feet, and neatly dressed in a dark grey robe which was cut high at the neck. Although the lace was strengthened by a goatee beard, he gave the impression of someone* aged forty or thereabouts. Not until he turned his head at last in my direction did I observe his eyes. As the full force of his gaze was bent upon me, T experienced an indescribable sensation oi standing in the presence of an utterly unusual man. I felt thai this meeting would be recorded for ever in my memory.